‘Drag queens aren’t going into schools to shoot kids’: Drag Queen Story Hour hits back at GOP ban attempts

The flamboyant LGBT+ education charity described Republican attacks as ‘smoke and mirrors’ to distract from gun control

<p>A Drag Queen Story Hour at a bookshop in Riverside, California in June 2019</p>

A Drag Queen Story Hour at a bookshop in Riverside, California in June 2019

Republican proposals to ban drag shows for children are "just smoke and mirrors" to distract from the party's failure to prevent gun massacres, the head of Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) has said.

The embattled LGBT+ education charity, which organises children's book readings by drag queens in schools, libraries, and book shops, has become a major flashpoint for social conservatives and been forced to cancel some events after receiving violent threats.

On Monday a GOP state legislator in Texas said he would file a bill to ban all drag shows "and other inappropriate displays" in the presence of minors, while on Friday Florida's Republican governor Ron DeSantis suggested he might ask child protection officials to investigate parents who take their children to drag events.

But in an interview with The Independent, DQSH's executive director Jonathan Hamilt shot back: "All this is just smoke and mirrors to distract us from what's really happening.

"You know, 19 students just got shot in Texas, and Texas legislation wants to ban minors from going to drag shows. It makes zero sense. It's a sad, sorry excuse... [for] the lack of gun control, and that's the real issue.

"Drag queens aren't going into schools to shoot kids... when did we decide that it's appropriate to teach kids how to hide under desks and not to talk about LGBT people and histories?"

Mr Hamilt, who also performs drag under the name Ona Louise, pointed to research by the gun control campaign group Everytown for Gun Safety, which found 96 incidents of gunfire on American school grounds in 2022 so far, resulting in 40 deaths and 78 injuries.

"There's been like 40 deaths [in school shootings] this year, and no children have been killed or hurt by anybody who attended a Drag Queen Story Hour, or at any Pride event," Mr Hamilt said. "If people really wanted to protect children, it wouldn't be banning LGBTQ education, it would be banning guns."

Asked on Friday whether his comments about Texas also applied to Florida, Mr Hamilt indicated that they did, saying: "This is part of a coordinated campaign to deny the rights of LGBTQ people, who already endure disproportionate rates of suicide and homelessness, and legislate us out of existence.

"Any attempt to criminalise our work is rooted in tired homophobic and transphobic hate and misinformation, and we refuse to give in to politicians who are too bigoted and boring to comprehend our vision for a world in which every child can be safe fully expressing who they are."

Texas and Florida politicians move to ban children’s drag shows

The proposed bills in Texas and Florida came after videos of children dancing with and tipping drag performers at a "family-friendly" midday show at a gay bar in Dallas went viral among conservatives.

The event, which was unaffiliated with DQSH, was a Pride-themed spin-off from the bar's regular afternoon drag brunches, starting earlier than usual and without the usual event's age restrictions. DQSH organises more sedate book reading events often hosted by public buildings.

Both types of events have been claimed by right-wing media and online influencers as evidence that the LGBT+ rights movement is a threat to children, echoing a recent surge in baseless claims of "grooming" against LGBT+ people that appears to have inspired street harassment and violence.

Last week a DQSH reading in North Carolina was cancelled due to violent threats, while another DQSH event at a US military base in Germany was pulled after US senator Marco Rubio accused the charity of exposing children to "sexually charged content".

Opponents claim that drag is inherently sexual and not appropriate for children, while advocates argue that drag is an art like any other and that child-friendly drag events can teach kids about LGBT+ culture and gender nonconformity.

"The events of this past weekend were horrifying and show a disturbing trend in which perverted adults are obsessed with sexualising young children," said Bryan Slaton, the Texas representative who proposed the drag show ban, referring to the Dallas bar event.

On Thursday, Florida representative Anthony Sabatini promised a similar bill to "terminate the parental rights of any adult who brings a child to these perverted sex shows".

Asked by reporters whether he would back that bill, Mr DeSantis said he had instructed his staff to consider the idea. "We have child protective statutes on the books; we have laws against child endangerment," he said. "It seems like there’s a concerted effort to be exposing kids more and more to things that are not age appropriate."

It comes amid a concerted push by Republican state politicians to ban discussions of LGBT+ life from school classrooms, as with Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law, and criminalise gender transition healthcare for transgender children.

‘Do you bring your kids to an R-rated movie? I hope not’

Mr Hamilt said threats are "nothing new" for DQSH, which was founded in 2015 in San Francisco and has faced growing hostility in red states since 2017, including at least one bomb threat.

"'Groomer' is one of the nicer words," he said. "I receive a bunch of personal death threats and hate mail and tonnes of different attacks on a daily basis... that's something shocking to a lot of people, but people tend to forget that the queer community faces this adversity and pushback on a daily basis."

However, he said the torrent of threats can be overwhelming for local officials, who are not always confident answering back and advocating for the events, meaning story hours are sometimes cancelled even though there is no credible danger.

Responding to Republicans' claims, Mr Hamilt described drag as simply a way of highlighting and exaggerating the way all people "perform" different personas in daily life, and likened the difference between a drag event for adults and one for children to that between R-rated films and children's films.

"I'm not going to lie and say drag is never sexualised, because drag is an art form and it can be sexual like anything else can be," he said.

"Drag with adults in an adult setting could be sexual, sure. Is it sexual at a Drag Queen Story Hour? No! Do you bring your kids to an R-rated movie? I hope not. There are actors in R rated movies, and those same actors can be in a family friendly comedy that's rated G...

"Someone who is bigoted or doesn't want to do the research, they're not going to understand that an adult drag show at an adult bar, in the evening, with alcohol, is different from a Drag Queen Story Hour nonprofit event at 11am at a public library.

"Obviously, all adults act differently when they're around children and when they're not. Every schoolteacher has a private life outside of working with children, and you act appropriately around children. That's just a normal thing that all adults do, no matter who you are – gay or straight, drag queen or not."

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